Dietribes: Mushrooms


• There's nothing newfangled about mushrooms. Morels (the genus of edible mushrooms) have been around since dinosaur times, evolving into over 177 species all over the world (including Antarctica - more on that later). The fungi have also been primarily championed by humans: "Oddly enough, most animal species aren't particularly attracted to morels," says Oregon State University researcher Nancy Weber. "A few slugs and other things will eat them. But humans have probably been eating them for about as long as there have been humans." More for us!

• It's a bird! It's a plane! It's … a giant mushroom! A mushroom in Oregon has claimed the title of World's Largest Living Organism. "The Armillaria ostoyae, popularly known as the honey mushroom, started from a single spore too small to see without a microscope. It has been spreading its black shoestring filaments, called rhizomorphs, through the forest for an estimated 2,400 years, killing trees as it grows. It now covers 2,200 acres (880 hectares) of the Malheur National Forest, in eastern Oregon." But can it be stopped?

• Mushrooms are more than just a tasty delicacy, they can also serve as the architectural basis for a house as well as a compostable car.

• From the Department of Controversy, mental_floss has been tireless in our coverage of questionable mushroom-related products, such as a mushroom cloud stuffed toy, and a mushroom cloud postage stamp (really, what were they thinking?).

• It's important to know the difference between a portobello and, say, a Death Cap (just ask Russian Czar Aleksandr I, Roman Emperor Claudius, French King Charles V and Pope Clement VII - just four of several historical figures who died after eating the wrong type of mushroom fungus). Before you go foraging, consider taking a class or reading up on some mushroom literature (and even then … beware!)

• "Mushrooms are masterpieces of natural engineering," and yet … some scientists still think with a little nip and tuck here and there (maybe a splash of botox), the gill mushroom could achieve perfection.

• It's a bird! It's a plane! It's … wait, we've done this one. Yeah, it's a mushroom, but not the world's largest …. the world's creepiest. Living in Antarctica, this "feisty" fungi feasts on the remains of an early 20th century hut constructed by polar explorers who all perished on their journey. Does the fungi have an alibi?

• Not all mushrooms enjoy coming out to devour our things, some like to stay well hidden. Take the white truffle, for example. Though its (inferior) cousin, the Périgord, can be cultivated, the white truffle can only be found by setting discerning pigs to roam across the Italian piedmont to root them out (only to have them snatched away from the pig and put, instead, on very expensive foods). "One of [New York City cheff] Daniel Boulud's favorite stories involves Puff Daddy, as he was known at the time, urging the chef to 'shave that b*tch' onto his food; Boulud obliged (as the bill mounted accordingly).

• When a buffalo may not always be a buffalo: A cave mural in Spain may suggest "magic mushroom" usage in Europe as part of religious rituals up to 6000 years ago. Egyptians boarded that train not long afterwards, "The delicious flavor of mushrooms intrigued the pharaohs of Egypt so much that they decreed mushrooms were food for royalty and that no commoner could ever touch them." In various other civilizations, including Russia, China, Greece, Mexico and Latin America, "Many believed that mushrooms had properties that could produce super-human strength, help in finding lost objects and lead the soul to the realm of the gods."

• Once again, if it's a food, there is a festival for it. Has anyone been to Kennett Square, Pennsylvania, mushroom capital of the world?

• As this is going to press, it seems Time has just written another article about this fabeled fungi and how, according to them, "it became as common as apple pie." (I like that, Time. Well played).

• Mushroom lovers? Mushroom haters? Do white mushrooms really make things taste that much better? I will put mushrooms on anything - pizza, burgers, eggs, wraps, Indian food, spaghetti, as a sandwich, as a side - anything!

Hungry for more? Venture into the Dietribes archive.

Food photos taken by Johanna Beyenbach. You might remember that name from our post about her colorful diet.